1. The Knight and the Lady
Devlan and Alenna
(Part 1 of 2, Ostensibly)
“Five great kings with golden rings
Once they ruled in Auldering
Then they came
Red wine rain
Now they rule where shadows sing.”
“You have a very pretty voice, my lady,” Devlan commented with a fond smile. The young girl, who had insisted on riding her pony alongside the knights, received the compliment with a mockery of courtly grace.
“Why, you have my thanks, my noble knight,” she replied jovially, a smile like sunshine parting her lips. At the young but precocious age of thirteen by the count of the Gereldan Calendar, Lady Alenna Kierlend was clever, talented, and, altogether, too witty for her own good. “Might I offer you this satin handkerchief as a token of my gratitude, Ser Ladden?” she chimed, pulling it from the sleeve of her riding shirt.
“You might, though I’d politely decline, my lady. I saw you blow your nose with it,” Devlan replied. They shared a laugh, his whiskey-rough chuckle complimenting her honey-sweet giggle. It was not customary for a lord’s daughter and a knight in his service to get along as they did, but the rules governing the interactions between the lords and their subjects and the formalities of the court hardly applied to two such as them. Ser Devlan Ladden, anointed knight of Lord Kierlend’s guard and master-at-arms of Whitehallow, was present at Alenna’s birth and had been in her company nearly every day since, often serving as her personal guard. They had developed a personal relationship over those years. She had taught him a few chords on the lyre and a song or two on the lute, and he had taught her the proper way to string a bow and draw an arrow. Young Alenna could outshoot both of her elder brothers with one eye closed.
“Do you recognize those colors?” Devlan asked after a moment’s silence. During the gatherings of Terlend's noble houses, the knight and the young lady passed the time playing a game of sorts. Alenna had taken a keen interest in politics and the lore of the nobility, and had memorized most of the standards of Lord Kierlend’s many bannermen. This banner, in particular, was mounted above a noticeably large wagon just up ahead at the center of the caravan’s procession. The banner itself portrayed a white falcon on a scarlet background, holding an emerald serpent in its beak and a white arrow in each talon.
“House Faulcrist,” Alenna answered easily.
“Very good. And their lands and titles, my lady?” Devlan asked. Alenna let out an exasperated sigh and huffed pointedly, making every effort to ensure that Devlan noticed that she unenthusiastic about playing their game.
“Do I have to?” she protested, and Devlan was surprised.
“Lady Alenna, the last time we played you recited all six of Lord Marquen’s titles, the names of all four of his children, his lady wife’s maiden name, and then you told me the story behind their colors,” Devlan said, referring to the silver knight and twin towers that adorned all of House Marquen’s banners. “I was under the impression that you were interested in the noble houses of Terlend.”
“I don’t have to list all of Lord Faulcrist’s lands and titles to be interested in the houses,” Lady Alenna replied sharply, and it was clear that she had ended the conversation. They passed in silence for a few minutes, and during that time Devlan took a moment to take in his surroundings.
They were in the forested heart of Terlend. The procession of carriages took one of the branches of the Old King’s Road, a relic of the long defunct Kingdom of Vedes. The Old King’s Road had been built during the reign of King Maedas the Miser who, contrary to his name, had been a dab hand as far as public works had gone. King Maedas had seen to the construction of highways, bridges, and outposts across Vedes, and four hundred years later many of them were still in use.
The Old King’s Road was particularly well preserved, being the largest and most important road in the empire. It ran from Crowngarden, south through Hartland and Sothrun, across the Orsian border to Ordal, and eventually ended at Madral, the crown of the southern world. The branches of the Old King’s Road were many, with roads leading to Corsciva, Port Saint Carthi, Cajrak, Dartmouth, and Westely, all the major port cities of the world. The sheer value of the imports and exports that traveled along the Old King’s Road made it the economic artery of the continent. All roads led to the Old King’s Road, so they said, and on to Crowngarden.
“Lord Halwin Faulcrist, Lord of the Falcon’s Watch, Lord of Port Saint Aiden, Lord-Regent of Badencourt, Lord-Protector of the West, Knight of the Second Mark. Father to Ser Calway Faulcrist, Knight of the Second Mark and Lord Halwin’s heir, Ser Carwin Faulcrist, Knight of the Third Mark and Lord of Hostely, and Lady Levandra Dalten, wife of Lord Andren Dalten and Lady of Andelhar.” Devlan smiled as Alenna broke the silence, and though she made a noble effort of appearing stone faced when he looked at her a smile crept up on her all the same.
“Very good, my lady, but you did make one mistake,” Devlan said chidingly. Alenna’s small, barely concealed smile vanished and was replaced with an interesting expression that exuded curiosity tinged with disbelief. Well aware that she was better versed in the noble houses of Terlend than some of Terlish lords themselves, she was as proud as she was talented. “Lady Dalten’s husband is Lord Jonnis Dalten. You’re probably thinking of Lord Andren of House Deslan, sworn to House Tallwary and-”
“-and House Baltwen in turn, yes,” Alenna replied with exasperation. “The southern houses are the worst.” It was true, the houses sworn to the Warden of the South were a web of interweaving swearing of loyalties, and the names of the Terlish houses were frustratingly similar to one another at times.
“The southern houses of Terlend will come more naturally to you than the manors of Trepanto, my little lady, if you ever get around to studying those,” Devlan replied. He himself was not much of a scholar, or at least he hadn’t been until he had met Alenna, who took to books in the way a pig takes to mud. Devlan had two children of his own, though neither of them had been boys of scholarly pursuits. His elder son Declan, fifteen years of age, was a squire in the service of Alenna’s father, and his younger son Brandt, eleven, was serving as a page to the king’s knights in Crowngarden.
To have a son serving in Crowngarden was a mark of honor in the courts, but it was well understood that the king’s requests for pages and squires from his vassals were a method of ensuring their loyalty. They were pampered hostages, in a way. What lord would rebel against the king if his son or the sons of his guards and vassals could be used as leverage against him? The squiring tithe, as it had been called during the Vedric era, was one of many interesting pieces of the empire’s heritage that Devlan had learned as a result of his newfound interest in political history. Devlan had found it an uneasy piece of information to digest.
“Why would I ever be interested in Trepanto?” Alenna asked. In many ways Alenna reminded Devlan of his elder son. Thirteen was a difficult age, he well remembered, full of questions and pestering insolence. Young Declan had nearly driven his own mother mad before his squiring, and his contrary behavior had granted his father the gift of a few grey hairs more than he found comfortable. But children would be children, his wife had always said, filled with curiosity and more wit than they know what to with. He idly wondered what gossip she was sharing with Lady Kierlend in their carriage together. They had been good friends since the days of their girlhood, and he often joked that she had wed Lady Kierlend long before she’d met him.
“In the event that your lord father ever marries you away to a rich merchant-lord of Trepanto, it would do you wonders to know what you’re getting into, Alenna,” he said with a joking smile. Alenna flushed red.
“My father will not marry me away, Devlan,” she said, exercising his first name as only a member of the nobility could. Her tone didn't do much to stymie his grin.
“We’ll see,” he chided. “But tell me, what does it mean when we say Lord Faulcrist is the lord-regent of Badencourt?” he asked, diverting the conversation.
“It means the Lord of Badencourt is dead and his heir is a fourteen year old boy who still thinks it’s funny to throw pig shit at girls,” Alenna replied sourly. There was shared history here, it was clear. Children would be children, Devlan recited to himself.
“Alenna, your mother would faint if she heard your mouth,” he said, chastising her with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm. He could walk the docks in Westely or Port Saint Aiden for twenty minutes and hear vulgarities the young lady could scarcely imagine, and he had walked his fair share of dockyards in the past. All the same, Lady Kierlend had been insistent that he made sure he was keeping her mouth clean. Lord Kierlend never objected to, and even tacitly encouraged, Alenna's less womanly pursuits of the bow and the lute, but her mother had every intention of making a proper lady out of her. Apparently the boy lord of Badencourt lacked for an etiquette laced upbringing in similar fashion. “Does he really?” Devlan asked after a pointed pause.
“Feyna’s washing my blue dress in the carriage. Father wanted me to wear it at the feast and it’s my favorite,” she replied. Devlan shook his head, doing his best to suppress a laugh.
“Gyaal help us. Someday people will be pledging fealty to that boy,” he said.
“I will certainly not,” Alenna replied with a sunshine smile, and they shared another light laugh together.